With Scream Factory’s two previous collections dedicated to him, and a number of other recent releases from companies such as Kino Lorber and Twilight Time, out of all the classic horror movie actors, Vincent Price is the one best represented on the Blu-ray format. THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION III comes at a time when most of his other genre films for American International Pictures (AIP) and United Artists have been released on Blu, but make no mistake...this 4-disc collection is not comprised of “lower tier” or “leftover” Price efforts, but rather some very worthwhile films and personal favorites. Stellar new HD transfers have been commissioned for this release (and at this time are exclusive to it) and the supplements here are enticing, not to mention that there’s two different versions of the underrated crown jewel that is CRY OF THE BANSHEE, something we never imagined we’d witness on a single home video release!
Disc 1: By the early 1960s, several stories by the legendary science fiction writer Jules Verne had already been translated into quite a few cinematic adaptations. These include such classics as Walt Disney’s TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), Michael Todd’s lavish AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS (1956), FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (1958), JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959), VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS (1960) and of course 1961’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND featuring astounding Ray Harryhausen stop motion effects and a magnificent Bernard Herrmann musical score. In 1960, American International Pictures, noted for their low-budget, black and white horror/science-fiction films geared for a teenage audience, began to produce more expensive films in color and widescreen adapted from great works of literature. The first venture was an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER starring Vincent Price as the tormented “Roderick Usher.” The film was a box office smash and AIP’s next literary take with their new star was an adaptation of two Jules Verne novels, Master of the World and Robur the Conqueror written by noted science fiction/horror scribe, Richard Matheson. The result is a fun, well written film that does not quite make it as far as special effects are concerned, but remains interesting nonetheless thanks to a good performance by Vincent Price. William Witney’s MASTER OF THE WORLD is the first feature on The Vincent Price Collection III.
In 1848, an expedition consisting of government agent John Strock (Charles Bronson, DEATH WISH), arms manufacturer Mr. Prudent (Henry Hull, WEREWOLF OF LONDON), his daughter Dorothy (Mary Webster, THE DELICATE DELINQUENT), and Dorothy’s fiancée Phillip Evans (David Frankham, TALES OF TERROR) is aloft in Prudent’s state-of-the-art balloon investigating strange volcanic activity in the Appalachian Mountains. While hovering over the area in question, a rocket hits the balloon rendering the occupants unconscious. When they awaken, they find themselves aboard a bizarre flying airship commanded by the mysterious Robur (Vincent Price). After witnessing the wonders of the futuristic aircraft dubbed the Albatross by its creator, the reluctant guests soon realize Robur’s true intent. In an effort to eradicate war and the misery that goes with it, Robur has constructed his ship with the specific purpose to destroy all warring factions throughout the world thus enforcing a kind of vigilante force to ensure peace. While Strock admires Robur’s vision of world peace, he rejects his methods of achieving it and sets out to stop him before Robur can “willingly destroy the world in order to save it.”
As a film, MASTER OF THE WORLD has many wonderful things going for it such as a sincere, non-hammy performance by Price that offers the actor a multi-layered characterization which never once borders on camp (like his later Dr. Goldfoot spoofs). Price’s Robur is both formidable and sympathetic, but never truly evil as his goals are honorable even if his methods are misguided. In addition, this film features one of Les Baxter’s best AIP scores. In fact, the soundtrack was released by American International Records on LP in 1961 in high fidelity and is something of a collector’s item today. Richard Matheson’s script is literate, interesting, and well-developed, skillfully capturing Jules Verne’s pacifist vision about man’s responsibility to his fellow man. The ending is particularly moving as Robur’s men unanimously refuse to abandon their leader at his darkest hour.
On the downside, the film features a rather miscast Charles Bronson as John Strock. According to Price’s own memories, Bronson did not really seem comfortable in this type of film and really did not enjoy the period costumes he was required to wear. Bronson would later find his niche in his legendary action films made both in the United States and Europe. In addition, the special effects and process/rear projection photography are pretty weak by today’s standards. This is a reminder that despite their recent respectability, this is still a low budget AIP film. This is most evident is some bizarre mismatched stock footage from older black and white war films which are tinted in color. In one scene, stock footage showing Shakespeare’s Globe Theater can be clearly seen as the Albatross is flying over London even though the action of MASTER OF THE WORLD takes place in 1848. Also, the scene where Strock and Evans are dangled outside the Albatross as punishment for attempting to escape suffers from poor rear projection photography although Baxter’s excellent music redeems the scene.
A bit of trivia…when MASTER OF THE WORLD was first released in 1961, it was double billed with AIP’s release of Herman Cohen’s KONGA. Even though AIP was upping the ante with more expensive films (compared to their 1950s efforts), they still believed in their tried and true formula of the drive-in double bill (MASTER was originally slated to be a roadshow feature, but that didn’t happen).
Previously available as a manufactured-on-demand DVD through MGM’s Limited Edition Collection, MASTER OF THE WORLD now makes it to Blu-ray in a transfer taken from a High Definition master made from an inter-positive. Presented in 1080p in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, colors are sufficiently vibrant, and the nicely-textured detail also impresses. The stock footage scenes (culled from so many different sources), matte shots and other optical effects are jarringly obvious, but they never detract from the enjoyment of the entire presentation. Print-source blemishes are minuscule, and the English DTS-HD Master Audio (the stereo soundtrack was created from the original 4-track mag) is offered in both stereo and mono; both tracks do a terrific job of presenting rich and deep audio that handles dialogue wonderfully and Baxter’s score also sounds lush in both mixes. Optional English subtitles are included. Note that this presentation of MASTER OF THE WORLD includes exit music, an instrumental followed by the Baxter-composed song “Master of the World” (lyrics by Lenny Adelson) sung by Darryl Stevens over a blank screen, bringing the running time up to of 1 hour and 42 minutes (this was not included on the previous DVD, but it was on the 1990s laserdisc).
Actor David Frankham is on hand for an audio commentary (he had recently done one for Kino’s Blu-ray of TALES OF TERROR) and he is joined by Jonathan David Dixon, who serves as a moderator (and he knows a lot about the original literary source this film was based on). Frankham mentions that he was a last minute addition to the cast (Mark Damon was originally cast in his part, but opted to go to Rome) and that Price had suggested him for the role, as the two had just done RETURN OF THE FLY together. The actor didn’t think Bronson was miscast, but rather thought he brought a strength to his role, and unlike Price (his personalities clashes with Bronson), Markham got on well with Bronson (as did Hull and Webster). Frankham also talks about his other cast mates (including supporting actor Richard Harrison and the good fortune he had after this film), director Witney, composer Baxter, and he shares a number of behind-the-scenes stories about the shoot (a lot of it taking place on the old Republic Studios lot). Actress Mary Webster can also be heard on the track from a recently-recorded phone message. “Richard Matheson: Storyteller: Extended Cut” (1:12:05) is interview footage with the late writer, conducted in 2001 (when he was doing these talks for a number MGM “Midnite Movies” DVDs) and most of the material here has never been seen before. MASTER OF THE WORLD is touched upon here, as he mentions his disappointment in the limited budget and tells of his encounters with Bronson on the set. The Poe cycle, BURN WITCH BURN, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and DE SADE also come up in conversation, as well as some of his unrealized projects and TV work. The original trailer is included, as well a two still galleries: one of posters, lobby cards and publicity shots and the other from David Frankham’s personal collection (featuring a lot of rare behind-the-scenes stuff).
Disc 2: With 1962’s TOWER OF LONDON, directed by Roger Corman and produced by his brother Gene, Price graduates in rank from the role he played in the 1939 Universal original (which had Basil Rathbone in the lead), as the hunchbacked Richard III, murdering his way up in his vain attempt to become King of England. The eldest brother in the royal family, and the King of England, Edward IV, is on his deathbed in the Tower of London. Edward appoints his younger brother Clarence (Charles Macaulay from BLACULA) as his successor. When Richard catches wind of this, he stabs Clarence in the back and leaves him in a vat of wine. Richard continues to kill to procure the throne, including the innocent and pretty Mistress Shore (Sandra Knight, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER) who is tortured on a rack. Richard has hallucinations of the ghosts of his killers, and accidentally strangles his own wife.
TOWER OF LONDON is the only movie Corman did with Price outside the AIP roster, as it was released by United Artists to compete with the Poe cycle. Shot in black and white (and not in Panavision), it's a heavy handed costume drama with horror film elements, and some juicy Shakespearean ham for Price to sink his teeth into. Again, Daniel Haller does the art direction, but the sets are apparently borrowed from other films and it tends to have a TV production look to it due to the uninspired photography and cut-rate special effects (the laughable “Battle of Bosworth” climax uses – or rather obscures – footage from the 1939 original). It's still fairly entertaining and Price is in nearly every frame. The supporting cast is good, though not particularly suitable for the material, including Joan Freeman (THE THREE STOOGES GO AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAZE), Michael Pate (CURSE OF THE UNDEAD), Gene Roth (SHE-DEMONS) and 1950s science fiction film favorite Morris Ankrum (INVADERS FROM MARS) as an archbishop! Paul Frees does the opening narration, and Corman actor Leo Gordon (THE HAUNTED PALACE) wrote the original story.
As MGM’s 2003 DVD of TOWER OF LONDON was non-anamorphic, the new Blu-ray transfer is a visual treat, mastered in HD from a fine grain film print. The 1080p transfer, which presents the film in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, has excellent detail, deep black levels and whites and grays are also balanced terrifically. Contrast levels also remain stable throughout the presentation, and grain structure is also solid. The image is also virtually free of any blemishes. The English DTS-HD Master Audio mono track sounds quite good, with clear dialogue and the sound effects and music also have the proper amount of clarity to them. Optional English subtitles are included.
Extras for TOWER OF LONDON include "Producing Tower of London" (14:04). Originally produced for MGM’s 2003 DVD, this has producer Gene Corman (introduced by Roger) talking about producing the film with his brother in the director's chair, and here he discusses how he got the assignment, the Cormans' surprise when they were told that they'd have to shoot in black and white, and why the ending battle scene borrowed stock footage from the 1939 TOWER OF LONDON. Roger Corman is on hand for a brand new interview (7:11), stating that there was no particular difference between doing this sort of film for UA as opposed to AIP, other than he didn’t get to shoot it in color. He also mentions that Price came up with some ideas for the screenplay, contributing to the final draft, and that the actor really relished playing the character. No trailer is included (there wasn’t one on the DVD either), but we do get a decent still gallery (with some rare behind-the-scenes shots) and two 1956 episodes of “Science Fiction Theatre”: One Thousand Eyes (26:09) and Operation Flypaper (26:05), both starring Price. In the first one, Price plays a crime lab researcher attempting to solve the murder of a scientist with a newly-invented camera. Jean Byron (INVISIBLE INVADERS) also appears in the episode. In the second one (which is actually in color), Price plays a Nobel Prize-winning scientist involved in underwater exploration and a baffling caper of missing documents and lost time (these of course are presented in standard definition).
Disc 3: DIARY OF A MADMAN (1963): in turn-of-the century France, the diary of a late magistrate is read, and the incredible circumstances of his demise unfold. Simon Cordier (Vincent Price), a kindly, wealthy and distinguished magistrate is attacked in a prison cell by a death-row serial murderer (Harvey Stephens, THE BAT) who accidentally dies during the confrontation. This incident causes Cordier to be possessed by a “Horla”, an evil spirit that forces its human host to do some rather nasty things. With this unexplainable nuisance making life miserable for him, Cordier takes up his old sculpting hobby as a form of relaxation. Then comes a chance encounter with lovely young model Odette Duclasse (Nancy Kovak, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS) who poses for him and quickly becomes the object of his affection. Cordier proposes, and gold-digging Odette easily accepts, even though she’s already married to a much younger starving painter (Chris Warfield, DANGEROUS CHARTER). But the Horla still has a hold of poor Cordier, and despite his newfound love and happiness, it causes him to commit murder.
Based on a short story by famed 19th Century author Guy de Maupassant, DIARY OF A MADMAN was one of two films that Price did for Admiral Pictures (the other being Roger Corman’s TOWER OF LONDON) and it was made during the height of his tenure at AIP. Obviously attempting to capture the look and feel of Price’s then-current color period horrors, the film, written and produced by Robert E. Kent, is somewhat routinely directed by the veteran Reginald Le Borg (who previously helmed some of the 1940s Universal Studios shockers, as well as the all-star 1950s creature feature romp, THE BLACK SLEEP), giving the impression that it was a rush job. But the lush studio sets (with art direction by none other than Daniel Haller), "invisible man" inspired special effects, detailed costumes and rich Technicolor photography easily make up for it.
If the film has one single asset that makes it rather enjoyable, that is of course is Vincent Price. Although DIARY isn’t considered one of actor’s better 1960s efforts, it’s a tour-de-force performance, with Price given a lot of screen time, a well-developed character and the chance to play good and evil at the same time. Price is given some tender moments, which include a scene where, possessed, he crushes his beloved pet canary, only to come out of his spell to find the poor thing dead. When he’s in possession mode, he’s his usual menacing self, with the evil presence of the Horla represented as a nuclear-green visor-like aura which hovers in front of his eyes.
Out-hamming Price for a change is familiar character actor Joseph Ruskin as the Horla’s sinister voice, ordering Cordier to do a series of horrible deeds. Nancy Kovak is striking in face and figure, but most of the supporting cast is rather stiff, with Price thankfully carrying the weight of the film. Most viewers will recognize Ian Wolfe (from countless supporting roles, including, among many others, MAD LOVE, THE RETURN OF DR. X, BEDLAM and ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY) as Cordier’s loyal butler, and when seeing Dick Wilson, it’s hard not to think of him as Mr. Whipple (the TV commercial grocer who for decades asked of us, “Please don't squeeze the Charmin”).
Previously available as a manufactured-on-demand DVD from MGM’s “Limited Edition Collection”, DIARY OF A MADMAN now arrives on Blu-ray and the results are spectacular. Mastered from an inter-positive film element, DIARY has been presented in 1080p HD in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio and the transfer is quite gorgeous, with the original Technicolor textures really coming through nicely, and very little on display in terms of dirt and debris. The image is extremely sharp; flesh tones look natural throughout, black levels are properly deep and the organic grain structure is pleasingly solid. The English DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is clear and distinct, even if there’s evidence of some minor pops and hiss inherent of the original elements. Optional English subtitles are included. Film historian, producer and screenwriter Steve Haberman is on hand for an audio commentary on DIARY, making great use of the 96-minute running time to share a wealth of information on just about everyone who appears on screen, as well as the talent behind the camera, with special attention paid to Price and director Le Borg. The original trailer is included, featuring special narration footage of Price on the film’s soundstage graveyard set. A poster and lobby card gallery round out the extras for DIARY.
Also on Disc 3 is AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE, a television special shot on videotape and aired in 1970. This was a unique experience for Vincent Price. After years of playing in adapted Edgar Allan Poe stories for AIP in which many of Poe's original plots were changed in order to translate well to the screen, now he was offered a chance to do what he once called "pure Poe" for AIP-TV. Basically this is a one-man stage show in which Price performs four Poe stories (divided into four "acts"..."The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Sphinx," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Pit and the Pendulum") EXACTLY as Poe wrote them word for word. Each story has its own little set and wearing different costumes and get-ups, Price (the only actor seen on screen) robustly enacts the stories as if he were on a Broadway stage doing a one-man show for an audience. The 53-minute special had AIP honchos Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson as executive producers, and the music was composed by Les Baxter (it later showed up on the 1980 CRY OF THE BANSHEE soundtrack LP from Citadel Records). Price’s then-wife Mary Grant was the costume designer on the show.
When MGM released AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLAN POE on DVD in 2003 (for the first time on home video ever) as a co-feature to TOMB OF LIGEIA, they used a master taken from a 16mm version: a dupe of the shot-on-videotape original (both the 16mm dupe and original videotape versions showed up on syndicated and local TV throughout the years). For their standard definition presentation of EVENING, Scream Factory has created a new master from the original 2” tape masters, so the special has been presented as it was intended to be seen. Naturally, the special still has that early 1970s “soap opera”-like appearance, but still looks as good as or better than it ever has, so this presentation can easily be described as definitive. Extras for EVENING include a new interview with writer/producer/director Kenneth Johnson (“Tales of Vincent Price With Kenneth Johnson”, 21:26). Johnson talks about his early days as executive producer of “The Mike Douglas Show” and befriending Price after meeting him on the program. Johnson approached Price with the idea of him telling these Poe stories, which were told in the first person, thar he could read as well as act out. He tells how AIP was approached to do it (and pleased that it could be part of their syndicated film package) and that although cue cards were present, Price had most of the dialogue memorized. Johnson covers all the grounds here, describing what Price was like on the set, his approach to direction and the way the show was shot. Haberman is also back for another informative audio commentary, meticulously scrutinizing the four individual Poe tales, he shares actual quotes from Price, and he talks about some of the show’s other personnel. A behind-the-scenes photo gallery (made up of photos from Johnson’s personal collection) rounds out the extras for EVENING.
Disc 4: CRY OF THE BANSHEE, another Price/AIP collaboration which was advertised as a Poe entry (though it had nothing to with Edgar except for a quote used in the opening credits), has suffered over the years to negative reviews, and as a horror film, it's well known for having something of a bad reputation. Most of this criticism is attached to the U.S. version which was re-edited, cut, and re-scored – the unedited director’s cut presented here, is arguably far superior. Director Gordon Hessler was working under obvious budget constraints, but he and innovative screenwriter Christopher Wicking (reinventing a story by American playwright Tim Kelly) were still able to turn out a very decent gothic horror film in the grand tradition that American International was known for.
(Warning: possible spoilers here) The story has a tyrannical magistrate, Lord Edward Whitman (Vincent Price) and his doomed family fighting off witchcraft in old England. Whitman and his henchmen – Burke (Michael Elphick, THE ELEPHANT MAN and Andrew McCulloch, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT) kill two children at one of his ballroom galas all because the girl (Judy Geeson, THE OBLONG BOX) refused his slobbering advances, and her brother because he aggressively tried to protect her. Whitman's young, frail looking wife Lady Patricia (Essy Persson, MISSION STARDUST), screams out, "murderer," after being repulsed by her husband's heartless actions. Whitman's chauvinist, pig-headed adopted son, Sean (Stephen Chase, Roman Polanski’s MACBETH) exclaims, "Watch your tongue girl, he can easily find another wife." Lord Whitman automatically agrees, showing no remorse whatsoever. This scene is very reminiscent of the one in Terence Fisher's CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, where the Marquis' young bride is offended the way he makes sport of a starving beggar during a banquet. When it is discovered that the perpetrator of witchcraft is Oona (silent film star Elisabeth Bergner in her final role), an aged coven leader, the Whitmans consider the rituals obscene and violently interrupt the proceedings (this scene was heavily edited in the U.S. version, and rearranged as a pre-credit sequence).
The slaughter of coven members leads to revenge by Oona and her pack. Little does the Whitman family know that Roderick (Patrick Mower, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT), a young man who tends to Lady Patricia and is secretly romancing daughter Maureen (Hilary Dwyer, THE BODY STEALERS), has been cursed as a Sidhe – a demon “avenger” in disguise sent by Oona to destroy the Whitmans. He ends up turning wolf-like under Oona's will and kills off the family one at time. First Sean is attacked, followed by Lady Patricia. Harry (Carl Rigg, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS), Whitman's real son, is able to locate the hiding place of Oona's coven, a crypt bearing the inscription "Born by fire, dies by fire," which is significant to the film's conclusion.
Wicking's script gives sympathy to the "witch" characters due to the fact that the Whitmans are so unlikable. The Whitman men are nothing more than self-indulgent opportunists. Like any typical witch hunter, Lord Whitman kills without conscience in order to impress and placate the people he rules over. Because of his failure in finding real witches, he burns a pretty young serving wench (Jan Rossini, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH) in the village square to show the crowd that he's doing his job, as well as giving them a spectacle. He has no respect for women, and he is instrumental in the mental breakdown of his wife. Sean is foul in every sense of the word. He uses his position and power to barge into the local inn and abuse a poor, defenseless young tavern girl. He uses witchcraft as an excuse to do so; the girl possessed some unidentifiable herbs, making her suspicious. He's nothing more than an opportunist, getting his jollies by molesting her and at the same time, putting on a show for his comrades.
Harry seems to be sympathetic and level-headed, but he turns out to be as typical a Whitman as Sean, proving that there are no heroes in this story. After being away at school he returns home with a new priest (Marshall Jones, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE), trying to do good, as opposed to others in his family. He hates barbarity but ends up killing twice. He slays one of the Whitman house lackeys in order to prevent him from further torturing a girl from Oona's coven (Victoria Fairbrother, FRIGHTMARE). He has also sworn to avenge the death of Sean (who was torn apart at the hands of Roderick's alter ego, the Sidhe) by killing Oona. The truth of the matter is that he hated Sean, and he openly admits that his determination to get revenge is a matter of principle. He is obviously just another opportunist, killing Oona to selfishly prove his manhood to himself. The only likable Whitman child is Maureen. She sees the beauty in life and wants only to move away with her beloved Roderick.
Roderick himself is an exceptional person, in his human figuration that is. He is the only one who can comfort Lady Patricia, who's on the verge of madness. He can calm all animals, as savage as they may be. He saves a child from the wrath of a rabid, wild dog. This only makes it more unacceptable to the audience that he is the one cursed, much like the sympathy Larry Talbot garnishes in THE WOLFMAN (1941). Oona is a witch, but she is driven to do evil because of the cruelty of Lord Whitman. During her ceremonies, she burns dolls that are made up to represent the Whitmans. Each time one is thrown into flames, Roderick becomes a Sidhe and kills. After Harry Whitman slices Oona's throat, she tells her children "to continue their ways of love and peace!" This is a fascinating angle that is not carried out fully. Oona practices witchcraft (and apparently her lord is Satan), but only unleashes hatred and death when it is brought against her people.
For the most part, the film is effectively executed due to Hessler's sharp direction. He is able to get a serious and snarling yet non hammy performance (nothing new but very good) out of Price, and the rest of the reliable cast is able to carry the film with an aura of class and distinction. Mower also appeared in Robert Hartford-Davis' BLOODSUCKERS around the same time and Dwyer had previously co-starred with Price in both WITCHFINDER GENERAL/THE CONQUEROR WORM (1968) and THE OBLONG BOX (1969). Marshall Jones (best known as the synthetic, Nazi-like madman Konratz in SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN) gives a calm performance as the priest; and character actor extraordinaire Hugh Griffith has a humorous bit part as a drunken (what else) grave digger. American B-movie vet Robert Hutton (THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY) has a bit part as a party guest, as does 1960s AIP starlet Quinn O'Hara (THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, IN THE YEAR 2889).
The film suffers somewhat from its obvious low budget. Despite some picturesque locations (and great use of the famous Grim’s Dyke house in northern London, now a hotel) the sets are somewhat modest and confined; the ballroom looks quite puny in comparison to other American International productions of this ilk, but at least the film is not so obviously studio-bound like so many others. The actual face of the Sidhe looks like a $20 Halloween mask when seen in publicity photos. Fortunately, since it obviously is not much more than that, Hessler is able to get around this problem. The scenes with the monster are darkly lit, as not to expose too much of the make-up limitations. One cleverly edited sequence has Roderick turning into the beast as he walks up a spiral staircase. Each time he steps out of total darkness, his face is a bit more transformed. All in all, CRY OF THE BANSHEE is worthwhile piece of gothic cinema and a nice edition to Vinnie Price's repertoire of chillers.
In this 91-minute “director’s cut” version, CRY OF THE BANSHEE was previously available on Orion VHS and then as an MGM “Midnite Movies” DVD paired with Hessler’s MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (also do out on Blu-ray from Scream Factory in March, 2016). Here, It has been remastered in HD from the inter-positive and looks amazing. Presented in 1080p in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the color palette of the transfer is quite impressive with realistic flesh tones, while detail is exceptional. Age-related blemishes are minimal, while the grain levels and black levels look perfect, and nighttime scenes have the proper amount of clarity. The framing on both sides and on the top and bottom is improved over the previous DVD transfer, revealing more generous amounts of picture information and fully complimenting John Coquillon's beautiful camera work and intended compositions. The English DTS Master Audio Mono mix is a perfectly solid mix with dialogue, music, and effects all being clear and distinguished. Optional English subtitles are also included. For those who don't know, this version runs a good four minutes longer than AIP’s theatrical cut, and includes all the bare female breasts and violence that was edited out. This version also has Terry Gilliam's fully animated opening montage and Wilfred Josephs' original score (this cut of the film was re-rated “R” some years ago).
What’s great is (and thanks again Scream Factory) that the 87-minute AIP theatrical version has also been presented here, as a bonus, in High Definition. AIP replaced Josephs’ score with boisterous music from their in-house composer Les Baxter, trimmed most of the nudity and minor violence to secure a “GP” rating, moved the massacre of the witches’ coven (in edited form) to the very beginning (as a pre-credit sequence) and re-dubbed different sound effects in various scenes. They also removed Gilliam’s incredible opening animated montage, replacing it will still-frame cartoon creature images over new main titles. Also, there’s color tinting (in one scene) and awkward zoomed-in shots (to obscure exposed female nipples). So yes, when you compare the two versions, you will notice significant differences. The transfer for the AIP version was done from the only surviving element in MGM’s vault, a “Color Reversal Intermediate” with the lost audio elements being pulled from an alternate source (and the transfer has the same technical specifications as the director’s cut). Naturally with the elements being in somewhat rougher condition than what was used for the director’s cut, the transfer is not nearly as good but still looks fine with the outcome being an above average rendering of what patrons saw in theaters and drive-ins in the 1970s (though this still likely looks better than any release prints that were in circulation, including the 35mm print this reviewer booked some years ago).
Steve Haberman is back for a thorough and enlightening audio commentary, and when he refers to the writing/directing team of Wicking and Hessler as “underrated”, you know he’s the right man for the job. Haberman relays how Wicking’s screenplays for his horror movies for Hessler reflect the liberal youth movement of the late 1960s, and describes the changes he made to Kelly’s initial draft. Haberman also covers facts about the cast and behind-the-cameras talent (with some great quotes from Hessler), describes the positives of the AIP re-cut (he prefers the Baxter score), delves into the film's characters and often refers to the film’s metaphorical nature in the time it was produced, something that sets it apart from most of the earlier gothics Price made for AIP. The featurette entitled "A Devilish Tale of POE" (17:52) has been picked up from the 2003 MGM DVD. It has Hessler (who passed away in 2014) talking about his early days working for Alfred Hitchcock on his TV program, hooking up with AIP to produce DE SADE and eventually abandoning it to direct THE OBLONG BOX in England. He then goes on to speak about the production and the great fun he had on CRY OF THE BANSHEE. The original trailer, TV spot and radio spot (with narration by “Fred Flintstone” voice actor Henry Corden) are included, as is an impressive still gallery which, among other goodies, includes some revealing cheesecake publicity shots featuring BANSHEE starlets Jan Rossini and Jane Deady.
THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION III also includes a 12-page booklet insert with color and black and white photos from all the features found on this release. As with the first two volumes, this one comes highly recommended and if this is the final one, we can at least say the trio of essential Blu-ray collections ended on a high note. (George R. Reis and Joe Cascio)
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